Sochi Slang: Our Favorite Winter Olympic Lingo

We can hardly believe it but the Olympics are almost over. In addition to keeping up with the latest on problems in Sochi, Olympic fashion (our favorites include the Norwegian curling team’s pants, skeleton competitors’ wicked helmets, and this Mariachi ski uniform), and oh yeah events, we’ve been keeping our ears open for fun slang terms. Here are our 12 favorites.

chicken salad

“There’s more to the Winter Olympics than wongbangers, tucks and chicken salads.”

Lawrence Baretto and Aimee Lewis, “Snowboarder Looking for Love,” BBC, February 19, 2014

Chicken salad in this context is not a sandwich filler but “when a snowboarder puts their hands between their legs and grabs the heel-side edge of the board,” according to The Telegraph .

We have no idea where this phrase comes from (and neither does the internet, at least as far as we can tell). All we know is that the chicken salad is more difficult than the melon (short for melancholy) and may be combined with a roast beef (“Back hand grabs through the legs to the heel edge and put head through legs”) to make a beef carpaccio.

double Japan

“Then, left side double corked 1260 double Japan on the first booter, to switch right side dub 1080 tail grab, and a switch right side triple corked 1260 Japan on the big booter.”

Josh Brown, “Junio strong candidate to be Canadian flag-bearer for putting team first,” Guelph Mercury, February 13, 2014

Did you get all that? Let us help: a double Japan, according to NPR, is, in slopestyle, a “a grab with one hand behind your foot, one hand in front on the same ski.” A Japan — which also seems to be known as a Japan air — is “a type of grab (when a skier grabs his skis while in the air).”

Other grabs include the China or Korean air (depending if you’re on the west or east coast, respectively), which are apparently earlier versions of the Japan air, and the Taipan air, which has nothing to do with the James Clavell novel but is a blend of tail and Japan air.


“The skater must take off using the more difficult outside edge. If she doesn’t, the jump is considered easier and gets fewer points. We call that a ‘flutz.’”

Robert Samuels, “Your complete guide to Olympic women’s figure skating,” The Washington Post, February 19, 2014

A flutz, says Nancy Friedman, is “an incorrectly executed lutz jump” that has devolved into a flip jump. Hence, the word is a blend of flip and lutz. The lutz is named for Australian skater Alois Lutz, the inventor of the jump.

huck it

“As every snowboarder knows, when Morgan said he figured he would ‘just huck it,’ he meant that he decided to go all out with a big jump, throwing his body wildly down the hill.”

Ben Zimmer, “An Olympic Snowboarder said ‘Huck It,’ and the BBC Freaked out,” Slate, February 9, 2014

According to Zimmer, the origins of huck or huck it are unclear but huck “has been developing as a verb for at least 25 years in a number of outdoor sports, as a way of talking about hurling an object or one’s own body with great force.”

BBC thought British snowboarder Billy Morgan uttered another four-letter word that ends in u-c-k, cut short his interview, and apologized for Morgan’s “offensive” language.


“In the world of skiing, the ladies took to the Slopestyle course with a plethora of tricks up their wizard sleeves, including my new favorite sports trick ever named after my #1 yo-yo dieter and tank-topped love, the K-Fed.”

Michelle Collins, “Winter Olympics Day 6 Recap: Welcome to the Winterfell Games,” Vanity Fair, February 12, 2014

The K-Fed is a rail trick, or a trick performed on an obstacle such as a rail, specifically, “a front switch-up blind 270 out.” What the heck does that mean? Perhaps it’s best to take a look.

Although it’s unclear why, the K-Fed is named after Kevin Federline, “dancer, rapper, fashion model,” and erstwhile husband of pop diva Britney Spears. The Britney, by the way, is “a blind switch-up front 270 out.”


“On keen days the concave keeps the ice well; and on dull ones the convex lends itself readily to ‘kiggle-caggle’ — or the oscillating motion which skilful players who want to reduce friction communicate to their stone on very baugh ice.”

John Kerry, History of Curling, 1890

Kiggle-caggle is curling term that seems to have been around since at least 1890, as per the History of Curling. While we couldn’t find an etymology (if anyone can enlighten us, please do so in the comments), we’re guessing the term is imitative in origin.

kiss and cry

“Long a cherished, finger-biting scene on telecasts, the kiss-and-cry zone holds skaters and their coaches captive beside the rink, with cameras in their faces, as they nervously wait for, and then receive, word of their fate from the judges.”

Mary Pilon, “With Team Skating, It’s Now Kiss, Cry, Squeeze In,” The New York Times, February 8, 2014

Kiss and cry, referring to the “the place where skaters waited with their coaches to receive their marks from the judges marks,” says Slate, “was coined by a Finnish skating official named Jane Erkko” in the 1970s. Erko and some young skaters “noticed that the competitors kissed and cried while waiting for their scores,” and the term “remained a joke among the skaters and with Jane as the place where the skaters would sit down after skating their programs.”

shred the gnar

“It’s also a powerful reality check for those who take their physically-intact bodies for granted — or assume people with disabilities can’t shred the gnar.”

Sam Laird, “Canadian Paralympics Ad is a Powerful Reality Check,” Mashable, February 4, 2014

Shredding the gnar refers to skiing a gnarly or difficult terrain, says NPR. To shred means “to ride aggressively.” In our cursory search, we couldn’t find a year of origin for this meaning, nor if it came before or after the meaning “to play very fast (especially guitar solos in rock and metal genres).”

Gnarly was originally a surfing term meaning “dangerous; challenging,” perhaps “with reference to the appearance of rough sea,” says the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). The term originated in the late 1970s.


“In a sport that prides itself on linguistic innovation (Mr. Kotsenburg, for instance, is fond of the all-purpose approbation ‘spoice’), ‘stoked’ is an old standby to describe a snowboarder’s feeling of euphoria about a good run.”’

Ben Zimmer, “‘Stoked,’ From 1960s Surfers to Sochi,” Wall Street Journal, February 14, 2014

Spoice is apparently “an exclamation of gratitude towards life,” and has been popularized these Olympics by American snowboarder Sage Kotsenburg. We’re guessing the word is an alteration of spice, perhaps in reference to the expression, “variety is the spice of life,” which has been attributed to poet William Cowper.


“If you have been watching figure skating throughout the 2014 Winter Olympics, it is impossible not to notice the term ‘twizzle’ that is constantly being dropped by Tara Lipinksi and Johnny Weir throughout the Sochi Games.”

Jose Sanchez, “Sochi Olympics, ice dancing: What is a twizzle?” Fansided, February 17, 2014

Originally referring to simply “a turning, twisting or spinning motion,” a twizzle is, in ice dancing, “three consecutive turns across the ice,” says The Wire. According to Pilar Bosley, a former competitive dancer:

Three turns in general aren’t considered one of the most difficult moves in skating, but when a twizzle is done properly the three turns are done so quickly that the naked eye can’t really tell that that turn is happening.

There are increasing degrees of twizzle-difficulty, such as the catch-foot twizzle, in which the skaters “hop into the first twizzle and then immediately catch their blade with one hand.”

The word twizzle may be an alteration of twissel, “double; twofold,” or else may be an imitative formation suggested by twist, says the OED.

Wagner face

“Ashley Wagner sparked memes and #wagnerface hashtags across the internet after she looked absolutely shocked when her score was revealed at the figure skating competition at Sochi Saturday.”

Brandi Fowler, “Move Over McKayla Maroney, Figure Skater Ashley Wagner Is ‘Not Impressed’ By the Olympics Either,” E! Online, February 9, 2014

While gymnast McKayla Maroney’s “not impressed” expression was the meme of choice for the 2012 London Olympics, Wagner face, referring to figure skater Ashley Wagner’s candid mein, is apparently the 2014 pick.

YOLO flip

“Whether it’s learning to ride a bike, walking in high heels on snow or doing a YOLO flip on the half-pipe, you have your cerebellum to thank.”

Brooke Horton, “Why Some Olympic Athletes Choke, While Others Are Unstoppable,” PolicyMic, February 19, 2014

The YOLO flip, “a double-cork 1440 — four full twists packed inside of two flips,” was invented and named by Swiss snowboarder Iouri Podladtchikov (who goes by the nickname I-Pod). It was also the trick that caused American Shaun White to lose the gold to the 25-year old I-Pod.

And in case you’ve been living in a snow bank all year, YOLO stands for “you only live once.”

[Photo: CC BY 2.0 by Stefan Krasowski]

Best of Word Soup 2013

Welcome to the second annual Word Soup Awards!

We at Wordnik not only watch TV, we listen for interesting, hilarious, ridiculous, and sometimes NSFW words and round them up right here. Now it’s time to the recognize the best of the best.

Best Use of a Favorite Word

The Mindy Project, defenestrate

We liked this show from the start. It’s funny, clever, and the actors are great. Then star and creator Mindy Kaling broke out with one of our favorite words to describe someone being ejected out a window, and our like turned to love.

Best Made-Up Collective Noun We Should All Begin Using Immediately

embarrassment of boobies, Bob’s Burgers

Of course there shouldn’t be anything embarrassing about boobies — unless you’re a 12-year old boy — but is it worse than a drunkship of cobblers? How about a bloat of hippopotami? A superfluity of nuns? Check out this list from Oxford Dictionaries for even more crazy collective nouns.

Best Old-Timey Word That Should Be Brought Back into English

pixilated, Boardwalk Empire

The Steve Buscemi vehicle set in 1920s Atlantic City has plenty of wonderful old-timey slangbunco artist, Mickey Finn, and zozzled are just a few — but our favorite this season was pixilated.

Pixilated, meaning eccentric, whimsical, or intoxicated, shouldn’t be confused with pixelated, which refers to images with pixels large enough to be seen. Pixilated may come from a blend of pixie and the suffix –lated.

Best Star Trek Reference

The Colbert Report, Gorn

Back in March, Barack Obama dared to confuse Jedi mind trick and Vulcan mind meld. Stephen Colbert had one thing to say to the president: “You are such a Gorn.” A Gorn, in case you didn’t know, is a humanoid reptile from the Star Trek universe.

Most Ridiculous Portmanteau

cliffpocalypsemageddonacaust, The Daily Show

Last year’s winner, 30 Rock’s unwindulax, is a tough act to follow, but Jon Stewart piled on the ridiculousness and the word-parts and ended up with cliffpocalypsemageddonacaust, a blend of fiscal cliff, apocalypse, armageddon, and holocaust.

Runner-up: crotcherazzi, The Mindy Project. Crotcherazzi is a blend of crotch and paparazzi, and refers to photographers who capture, whether by design or mistake, crotch shots of female celebrities who inadvertently flash whomever might be watching.

Most Ridiculous Portmanteau-Eponym

Changnesia, Community

Community kills it with eponyms (that is, words derived from names of people). Their term, Ferris Buellerian, won last year’s prize for Best Eponym, while Britta as a verb meaning to “make a small mistake” has entered the lexicon.

This year they outdid themselves with the ridiculous portmanteau eponym, Changnesia, a blend of the surname Chang and amnesia. Changnesia is “the complete loss of memory caused by sudden trauma that was, itself, also forgotten.” It’s also known as “Kevin’s Disease.”

Best Use of Portmanteaus


The Daily Show and Colbert Report tied last year, but this year there’s one clear winner.

Veep won us over with blends like co-POTAL, relating to a shared presidency; gestictionary, a dictionary of coded gestures; and the anxiet, weight loss due to anxiety. We can’t wait to see what else they come up with when Selina tries to go full-POTAL next season.

The We’re Ashamed to Admit We Get Our Education from TV Award – TIE

The Daily Show and The Colbert Report

Of course we keep up with the news, but sometimes it’s nice to have someone explain certain terms and put them into historical context. And that’s what just what Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert do on The Daily Show and The Colbert Report.

We learned about the Southern strategy, a Republican party tactic to get votes in the South by “appealing to racism against against African Americans”; border surge, an increase of security along the U.S-Mexican border; narcoterrorism, “terrorism carried out to prevent interference with or divert attention from illegal narcotics trafficking; and many more.

Best Show About a Serial Killer That Also Has Interesting Words


Hannibal, a sort of prequel to Silence of the Lambs, was one of the most fascinating shows of the year. Not only did it sucker us into sympathizing with a serial killer, it gave us some interesting words, from the psychological (folie à deux), to the gruesome (blood eagle, Colombian necktie), to the random (tyromancy).

We’re looking forward to the next course.

Best Québécois-ism

l’affaire est ketchup, Parts Unknown

Leave it to chef, traveler, and writer Anthony Bourdain to introduce us to this Québécois idiom that roughly translates as “everything’s cool.” It’s almost enough to forgive Quebec for pastagate (almost).

The We’re So Glad We Finally Know the Difference Award

catsup versus ketchup, Mad Men

Speaking of ketchup, Peggy claimed the difference between that and catsup was that “catsup has more tomatoes, comes in a bigger bottle, is cheaper, but tastes just like ketchup.” However, according to Slate, there’s no difference between catsup and ketchup (and catchup for that matter).

These catsup variations may come from Amoy, also known as Xiamenese, a Chinese dialect. Ketchup caught on, says Slate, when Heinz changed “Heinz Tomato Catsup,” to “Heinz Tomato Ketchup” to distinguish it from competitors.

Best Inside Joke for New Yorkers

Second Ave subway, Mad Men

When Peggy’s realtor assured her that her York Avenue apartment would “quadruple in value” once the Second Avenue subway was finished, we had to laugh: plans for constructing a the Second Avenue subway began in 1929 and almost 90 years later, is nowhere near completion.

Best Show for British Idioms When Downton Abbey Isn’t On

Call the Midwife

Downton Abbey hasn’t been on since February, at least for those of us in the U.S. Thank goodness for Call the Midwife.

Set in London’s East End in the 1950s, the show has no shortage of terms and sayings that are probably completely familiar to many people but new to us. Push the boat out, for instance, meaning to do something extravagantly; put the tin hat on it, “to bring something to a [usually unwelcome] close or climax,” according to the Oxford English Dictionary, and with origins in World War I terminology; and tickety-boo, meaning correct or satisfactory, and perhaps coming from the Hindi phrase ṭhīk hai, “all right,”

Best Term Coined by an Actor about His Own Show

nerd glaze, Peter Dinklage

When Peter Dinklage of Game of Thrones uttered these two words describing either an expression of daze and awe as a result of binge-watching a favorite TV show, or awe-struck fandom in general, Jon Stewart knew he was onto something.

“If somebody doesn’t have nerdglaze dot com right now,” Stewart said, “you have to register that.” was indeed registered shortly after the episode, and is now a cool site about nerd culture.

Euphemism of the Year

send someone on a trip to Belize, Breaking Bad

As we’ve mentioned, this season’s Breaking Bad was all about euphemisms, banal phrases said in place of, in this show’s case, horrific, unspeakable acts. Send someone on a trip to Belize, uttered by colorful phrase-maker and attorney Saul Goodman, means to have someone killed.

In response, the Belize Tourism Board offered free trips to the show’s creators and stars. From the director of marketing and industry relations: “We saw this as a great opportunity to spin the story and introduce a new audience to Belize as a potential vacation destination.”

Understatement of the Year

Red Wedding, Game of Thrones


Like many who hadn’t read the books, we didn’t know what we were in for when we sat down to watch the second to last episode of this season’s Game of Thrones.

We sensed tension at the end of the wedding between Edmure Tully and Roslin Frey, but surely everything would be all right. Peace would be restored between the Starks and the Freys, Talisa would give birth to Robb’s child, and Arya, at long last, would be reunited with her mother and brother. But we quickly learned that this would not be the case, and along with the rest of the internet, we promptly lost our sh*ts.

The wedding, which by the way was inspired by two real-life events, was a red wedding to say the very least.

What were some of your favorite words from TV this year?

[Photo: CC BY 2.0 by kreetube]

8 Words from Mark Twain

On this day in 1884, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was published for the first time. In celebration we’ve rounded up eight words coined or popularized by the novel’s author, a guy you might know as Mark Twain.


“New Orleans intended to fittingly celebrate, this present year, the bicentennial anniversary of this illustrious event; but when the time came, all her energies and surplus money were required in other directions, for the flood was upon the land then, making havoc and devastation everywhere.”

Life on the Mississippi, 1883

Usage of the word bicentennial, meaning occurring every two hundred years, has been steadily increasing since the 1880s. The usage rose sharply in the 1970s, probably due to the United State Bicentennial, and then again in the mid-1980s, perhaps due to the bicentennial of the Statue of Liberty.


“We took him a blip in the back and knocked him off.”

St. Nicholas, 1894

Twain’s usage of blip here means “any sudden brisk blow or twitch; a quick popping sound,” according to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), and is probably imitative in origin. The word came to refer to “a spot of light on a radar or sonar screen” around 1945, and the figurative meaning of “a temporary or insignificant phenomenon” in the mid-1960s.

A brontosaurus on a 1962 panorama of the Front Range Foothills


“Two of these cults are known as the Shakespearites and the Baconians, and I am the other one—the Brontosaurian.”

Is Shakespeare Dead? 1909

Brontosaurian here means “of or pertaining to a brontosaurus,” says the OED, and therefore figuratively, “antiquated; clumsy, ineffectual.”

The word gained peak usage in the 1920s, about 10 years after Twain’s, before dropping off and gaining some up-and-down frequency from the 1940s through the 1980s before dropping off again.


“Well, sir, his dead-lights were bugged out like tompions; and his mouth stood that wide open that you could have laid a ham in it without him noticing it.”

Rambling Idle Excursion, 1877

Bug here meaning “to protrude” might be an alteration of bulge, although one could imagine it meaning having eyes resembling that of a bug.


“We snatched on a few odds and ends of clothing, cocooned ourselves in the proper red blankets, and plunged along the halls and out into the whistling wind bareheaded.”

A Tramp Abroad, 1880

Twain’s use of cocoon as to mean to wrap in something resembling a cocoon is the earliest recorded. The word cocoon ultimately comes from the Greek kokkos, “seed, berry.” Cocoon also has a newer meaning of “to stay inside and be inactive.”


“So the duke said these Arkansaw lunkheads couldn’t come up to Shakespeare; what they wanted was low comedy—and maybe something ruther worse than low comedy, he reckoned.”

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, 1884

A lunkhead is slang for a stupid person or blockhead. This word may be an alteration of lumphead. The usage of lunkhead far surpasses that of lumphead.

slim jim

“Got it, slim Jim!”

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, 1889

A slim Jim here refers to “a very slim or thin person,” and also means anything long, thin, or narrow, such as slim-jim pants or a slim-jim tie. In 1902, says the Online Etymology Dictionary, slim jim referred to a type of “slender cigar,” and in 1975 to the meat snack.


“We could not eat the bread or the meat, nor drink the ‘slumgullion.’”

Roughing It, 1872

The slumgullion Twain is referring to “a cheap drink.” It also means “a watery meat stew” and “offal or refuse of fish of any kind; also, the watery refuse, mixed with blood and oil, which drains from blubber.”

The word may come from slum meaning “in metallurgy, [the] same as slime,” and the dialectal gullion, “mud,” which may come from the Irish Gaelic goilín, “pit.”

[Photo: “Brontosaurus,” CC BY 2.0 by Miranda Celeste Hale]

The Words of George Eliot

Mary Ann Evans, the English novelist who went by the pen name of George Eliot, was born on this day in 1819.

A journalist and translator, Eliot was one of the leading writers of the Victorian Era and “used a male pen name. . .to ensure her works would be taken seriously” and “to escape the stereotype of women only writing lighthearted romances.”

Her 1872 novel, Middlemarch, is considered by some to be “the greatest novel in the English language.”

In celebration of the author’s birthday, here are eight words you might not know she coined or popularized.


 “The quality of the spotted one is best, but the effect is chintzy and would be unbecoming.”

Letter, 1851

Chintzy means “decorated with chintz,” but also gaudy, trashy, stingy, or miserly. Eliot’s is the earliest recorded usage of this figurative sense.

Chintz, which is a “cotton cloth printed with flowers or other patterns in different colors,” comes from the Hindi chint, which comes from the Sanskrit chitra-s, “clear, bright.”

More English words that come from Indian languages.


“The caps she wore would have been pronounced, when off her head, utterly heavy and hideous — for in those days even fashionable caps were large and floppy.”

“Scenes of Clerical Life,” George Eliot’s Works, 1858

As you probably guessed, floppy comes from flop, an old word dating from 1600 as a variant of flap, which is probably imitative. Floppy disk is from about 1974.

horribile dictu

“In some circles the effort is, who shall make the best puns, (horribile dictu!) or the best charades.”

The Writings of George Eliot, 1854

Horrible dictu translates from Latin as “horrible to relate” and is analogous with mirabile dictu, “wonderful to relate.”

light headed


“I have bought the Lucifers and done my duty about the Lamp shade, but to get one it will be necessary to send the old one as a pattern.”

Selections from George Eliot’s Letters, 1850

The next time put a lampshade on your head to party, you can thank George Eliot for coining the word, or at least having the earliest recorded usage.

Lampshading or lampshade hanging is dealing with an element of a story that threatens the audience’s suspension of disbelief “by calling attention to it and simply moving on.”

The Lucifers in the quote, by the way, refer to a brand name of matches.


“But after this week I shall be most glad if you and Dr Congreve will come and see us just as and when you would find the least inconvenience in doing so — either at lunch-time (half past one) or at a later hour.”

Life of George Eliot: As Related in Her Letters and Journals, 1859

The word lunch came from the word luncheon in the early 1800s, says the Oxford English Dictionary. Around 1931, lunch began to surpass supper as the word for a noontime meal. Lunchtime, while used by Eliot in the mid-1850s, didn’t really start to gain popularity until after 1960.


“But there is too much ‘Pop.’ for the thorough enjoyment of chamber music they give.”

Life of George Eliot: As Related in Her Letters and Journals, 1862

Michael Jackson would be nothing without George Eliot — or at least he would need a different moniker. Eliot’s usage is the earliest recorded one of pop meaning to popular music. Pop is also a count noun, says the OED, referring to “a popular song or piece of music.”


“The self-criticism which prompted the suppression of the dedication did not, however, lead him to improve either the rhyme or the reason of the unfortunate couplet.”

“Worldliness and Other Worldliness: The Poet Young,” The Essays of George Eliot, 1857

In the early 1930s, self-criticism gained the added meaning of “criticism undertaken publicly by oneself of one’s actions, attitudes, or policies, considered as a duty in order to ensure conformity with communist party doctrine.”



“Probably this projected transportation may be to a Cape of Good Hope instead of a Siberia.”

Letters, 1841

Eliot’s is the earliest recorded usage of Siberia to mean, figuratively, “a remote undesirable locale.” This area of central and eastern Russia had been “used as a place of exile for political prisoners since the early 17th century.” In the early 1890s, construction of the Trans-Siberian Railroad began, and “from 1801 to 1914, an estimated seven million settlers moved from European Russia to Siberia.”

The population and settlement continued to expand through the twentieth century although “in the early decades of the Soviet Union (especially the 1930s and 1940s), the earlier katorga system of penal labour camps was replaced by a new one that was controlled by the GULAG state agency.” Many of these camps and prisons were in Siberia.

[Photo: “Chintz,” CC BY 2.0 by CycloKitty]
[Photo: “lightheaded,” CC BY 2.0 by Peter Castleton]
[Photo: “Siberia,” CC BY 2.0 by Giuseppe Tescione]

Words of Boardwalk Empire

The season finale of Boardwalk Empire, one of our favorite shows, airs this Sunday, and we thought we’d honor it with, what else, our favorite words from the season.

Taking place in Prohibition Era Atlantic City, the show features 1920s slang, crime speak, and black Southern lingo that has migrated its way north. Have a drink (just make sure it’s not a Mickey Finn), get zozzled, and enjoy.


J. Edgar Hoover: “A nationwide network of organized criminals? Cyril Briggs, Marcus Garvey, Emma Goldman. Anarchists. Political agitators. That’s where the Bureau needs to be putting it resources.”

“The North Star,” October 13

The word anarchist originated in the 1670s. It comes from the French anarchiste, which comes from the Greek anarkhia, “without rule.”

During the French Revolution, Robespierre used the term anarchiste to refer disparagingly to “those on the left whom he had used for his own ends during the French Revolution but was determined to get rid of.”

Cyril Briggs was a journalist who established the African Blood Brotherhood, “a radical U.S. black liberation organization,” which was often at odds with Marcus Garvey’s organization, the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League. Emma Goldman was “was an anarchist known for her political activism, writing, and speeches.”


Oscar’s nephew [to Chalky]: “So you the biggity man?”

“Havre de Grace,” November 17

Biggity, meaning self-important or conceited, originated as 19th century U.S. Southern slang. The word is a play big and may be influenced by the word uppity.

boola boola

Willie Thompson: “Well, I’m away at college now.”
Mickey Doyle: “Boola boola.”
Clayton: “That’s Yale. We go to Temple.”
Mickey: “Funny, you don’t look Jewish.”

“Acres of Diamonds,” September 22, 2013

Boola boola comes from the fight song of Yale University. The song was composed around 1900 and may come from an earlier song, “La Hoola Boola,” by Robert Allen “Bob” Cole and Billy Johnson, two “extremely popular African American singer-songwriters of the time.”

bunco artist

Nucky: “Meems told me there’s a skunk in my cellar.”
Eli: “The justice guy? He’s a bunco artist, start to finish.”

“Havre de Grace,” November 17

A bunco artist is a con artist. Bunco, a swindle or confidence trick, may be an alteration of the Spanish banca, “card game.”


Dean O’Banion: “Some cabbage coming your way. Wops over in Cicero.”

“Resignation,” September 15, 2013

Cabbage is U.S. slang for money, “especially in the form of bills.” This sense originated around 1903, according to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). Lettuce as slang for money came about around the same time.


Ed: “Having a little chin-wag with William here.”

“The Old Ship of Zion,” October 27, 2013

Chin-wag means “light, informal conversation.” The term originated around 1879, says the OED. To chin also means “to make idle conversation; chatter” while tongue-wagging is another term for gossip.


Chalky [to Richard ripping a flag for a sling]: “Are you sure that’s copacetic?”

“White Horse Pike,” November 10

Copacetic means satisfactory or acceptable. The term may have originated in 1919 or possibly earlier in 19th century U.S. Southern black speech.

There are many possibilities for copacetic‘s language of origin, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary, including Latin, Yiddish, Louisiana French (coupe-sétique), and Native American. However, “none is considered convincing by linguists.”


Dean O’Banion: “I’m selling hydrangeas, George, not the grippe.”

“Resignation,” September 15, 2013

The grippe is influenza or the flu. The word comes from the French gripper, “to seize.” The word influenza (of which flu is a shortening) comes from the Medieval Latin īnfluentia, “influence,” so called “from the belief that epidemics were due to the influence of the stars.”

in Dutch

Goon: “Does it get me out of Dutch?”

“Marriage and Hunting,” November 3, 2013

To be in Dutch means to be “in trouble or disfavor” with. The phrase originated around 1912, according to the OED, and may come from the old stereotype of the Dutch being “stolid, miserly, and bad-tempered,” says World Wide Words.

We first discussed the phrase in Dutch in our post on words from Breaking Bad.

Mickey Finn

Nucky: “Who slipped him the Mickey? . . . .The Mickey Finn, the knockout punch.”

“Erlkönig,” October 6, 2013

A Mickey or Mickey Finn is “an alcoholic beverage that is surreptitiously altered to induce diarrhea or stupefy, render unconscious, or otherwise incapacitate the person who drinks it.”

The term originated around 1915, says the OED, coming from the name ‘Mickey’ Finn, “a Chicago saloon-keeper of the late 19th and early 20th cent. who was alleged to have drugged and robbed his customers.”

From a December 1903 issue of the Chicago Daily News: “The complete defense advanced by ‘Mickey’ Finn, proprietor of the Lone Star the scene of blood-curdling crimes through the agency of drugged liquor.”


Dean O’Banion: “Your boy Al? He’s pixilated or something. He won’t listen to reason.”

“William Wilson,” October 20, 2013

Pixilated (not to be confused with pixelated) means “behaving as if mentally unbalanced; very eccentric.” The word originated around 1848, coming from the word pixie plus the suffix –lated (as in elated).

The origins of the word pixie are more obscure. It may come from the Swedish dialetical pyske, “small fairy,” or its ultimate source may be in Cornwall and “thus something Celtic.”

The word pixelated is, as expected, much newer, coming from pixel, which is perhaps a combination of picture and element. The word pixel originated in the mid-to-late 1960s.


Chalky: “I signed contract with that man. He connected in New York. And I worked on him so that club can turn some scratch.”

“New York Sour,” September 8, 2013

Scratch is slang for money. The origin for this is unknown: neither the Online Etymology Dictionary nor the OED have any theories. Daily Writing Tips guesses it could be from the idea of “one has to struggle as if scratching the ground to obtain” money.


Clayton: “Just so you know, I was zozzled last time or else I’d never have let them do that.”

“All In,” September 29, 2013

‘To be zozzled means to be drunk and is probably an alteration of the older sozzled, which is from about 1886.

Sozzled comes from sozzle, to spill or splash, often in a messy manner. Related may be soss referring to a dirty puddle, falling lazily into a seat, or a lazy person. Soss may be imitative in origin. To sossle means to “go about in an aimless idle manner,” according to the OED.

Zozzled seems to have first appeared in writer Edmund Wilson’s 1927 Lexicon of Prohibition, “a catalogue looking back to [Ben] Franklin’s The Drinker’s Dictionary.” While this episode of Boardwalk Empire takes place in 1924, we’re guessing that the word zozzled was in use for several years before Wilson recorded it.

Celebrating Ada Lovelace: Our Favorite Hacker Slang

Today is Ada Lovelace Day, which honors 19th century English mathematician and writer, Ada Lovelace.

While Lovelace is “chiefly known for her work on Charles Babbage‘s early mechanical general-purpose computer, the Analytical Engine,” she is also credited with developing the “first algorithm ever specifically tailored for implementation on a computer,” and thus is often considered the world’s first computer programmer.

To celebrate this pioneer hacker, we’ve rounded up 10 of our favorite hacking terms.


“Development moved slowly because endless bikeshedding impaired efforts to reconcile technical differences between the disparate Nokia and Intel software components.”

Ryan Paul, “Intel Denies Giving up on MeeGo, But That Doesn’t Mean Much,” Ars Technica, September 9, 2011

Bikeshedding refers to the “futile investment of time and energy in marginal technical issues,” and “implies technical disputes over minor, marginal issues conducted while more serious ones are being overlooked.”

The term originated in Berkeley Software Distribution culture and is an example of Parkinson’s law of triviality, a 1957 argument from British historian C. Northcote Parkinson which says that “organizations give disproportionate weight to trivial issues.” The term bikeshedding comes from the idea of “people arguing over what color to paint the bicycle shed while the house is not finished.”


black hat

“But by the end, I felt Bruce Sterling the fiction writer’s presence was too strong in painting a problematic, one-dimensional and static picture of the role of hacker culture in the WikiLeaks saga; the gist is that once a black hat hacker, always a black hat hacker.”

Gabriella Coleman, “Hacker Culture: A Response to Bruce Sterling on WikiLeaks,” The Atlantic, December 23, 2010

A black hat is “a malicious hacker who commits illegal acts.” The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) cites the phrase’s earliest usage as 1990: “The idea of the ‘pick one from three’ is so the black hats can’t tell which challenge you’re responding to, and thus can’t build a table from observation.”

Black hat hacker comes from an earlier meaning of black hat, “a villain or bad guy in a story, especially in a Western,” which the OED says is from the late 1950s: “Once it was easy to tell the heroes from the villains in the television Westerns: The white hats were the good guys and the black hats were the bad guys.”

By that token, a white hat is “a well-meaning hacker who hacks for a good cause or to aid a company, organization, or government without causing harm.”


“Google, like just about every technology company, employs a bevy of eager and captive testers–employees–when getting ready to roll out a new product. However, there are clear limits to what ‘dogfooding’ (as the process is known) can predict about how the general public will receive a product.”

Tom Krazit, “How Google Tested Google Instant,” CNET, October 18, 2010

Dogfooding, or eating your own dog food, is when a company uses “its own product to demonstrate the quality and capabilities of the product.”

The origin has a couple of possibilities: 1980s Alpo dog food commercials in which spokesman Lorne Greene claimed that he fed Alpo to his own dogs, and the story of the president of Kal Kan Pet Food supposedly eating a can of his dog food at shareholders’ meeting.


“Translated from Anonymous-speak, ‘dox’ are documents, and ‘doxing’ is the practice of revealing someone’s real-life details, usually for the purposes of harassment.”

Andy Greenberg, “Anonymous and Ex-Anonymous Hackers Wage a War of Identification,” Forbes, March 22, 2011

Doxing, or sometimes doxxing, refers to publishing “an individual’s personal information on the Internet,” often “outing” the person from a pseudonymous persona. Dox comes from documents since personal documents, such as credit card statements, are often used to obtain the target’s real identity.

In her post on doxing back in February, Nancy Friedman wrote that according to Know Your Meme, the term has been in use since the early to mid-2000s. A recent, and controversial, example of doxing was the unmasking of Violentacraz, a notorious Reddit troll.


“A convicted computer ‘hacker‘ who is apparently under FBI investigation claims that he has gained access to a Defense Department computer network about 100 times, once learning of military plans to monitor earthquakes in communist countries.”

‘Hacker’ Says He Entered Pentagon’s Computer,” The Milwaukee Journal, November 26, 1984

The computer sense of hacker originated in the mid-1970s, says the OED, with the meanings of “a person with an enthusiasm for programming or using computers as an end in itself” and “a person who uses his skill with computers to try to gain unauthorized access to computer files or networks.”

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the usage may have evolved from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where by the late 1960s a hack had the general sense of a “creative prank.” This sense of hack may somehow be related to the “writing for hire” meaning of the word, or else the physical act of chopping or cutting.

The term hacktivist, a blend of hack and activist, originated in the mid-1990s, says the OED.


“The term ‘Heisenbug’ may as well have been invented for multithreaded programming.”

John Siracusa, “Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard: the Ars Technica review,” Ars Technica, August 31, 2009

A heisenbug is “a software bug which fails to manifest itself during debugging.” The word is a play on Werner Heisenberg, a German theoretical physicist who devised the uncertainty principle, which states “that any attempt to measure the position of a subatomic particle will disrupt its movement, making it harder to predict.” Heisenbug seems to have originated in the mid-1980s.

Heisenberg is also the pseudonym of chemistry teacher turned drug kingpin, Walter White, in the television show, Breaking Bad. The behavior of Walter White, aka Heisenberg, could be likened to both the subatomic particle in the uncertainty principle and the elusive heisenbug.

Ants marching

marching ants

“Even the now-ubiquitous moving dotted line that indicates a selection — called ‘marching ants’ by MacPaint developer Bill Atkinson after a suggestion by Rod Perkins of Apple’s Lisa team — originated in MacPaint.”

Rik Myslewski, “1984’s MacPaint Source Code Hits Web,” The Register, July 21, 2010

Marching ants refer to “an animated dotted line indicating which portion of an image is currently selected.” The idea is credited to Bill Atkinson, the creator of MacPaint, while Rod Perkins of the Apple Lisa team is the one who said the effect reminded him of “marching ants.”


“The state of BI dashboards today is that you start with your data in text form, and then you munge it and mash it until you’ve gotten your answer, and then you go and launch some chart wizard that asks you what template you want.”

Eric Lai, “New Free Online Tool Makes Creating Infographics from Data Easier,” Digital Arts, February 12, 2010

Munge, also mung, refers to transforming “data in an undefined or unexplained manner”; adding a spamblock; or corrupting “a record about an individual by erroneously merging in information about another individual.”

One theory of this word’s origin is that it was “coined in 1958 in the Tech Model Railroad Club at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology,” with the backronym “Mash Until No Good” created in 1960.

However, the word munge has been in use since 1600, according to the OED, when it meant to wipe someone’s nose or to cheat someone. In 1770, it came to mean “to eat greedily and noisily; to much; to chew,” which could easily be extended to the idea data being chewed up. In 1790, munge gained the meaning of “to mutter, grumble; to mope.”

The Smurfs

smurf attack

“The second type, known as a smurf attack, again involves the use of compromised machines, but it also employs a large third-party network of computers to ‘amplify’ the data used in the attack and greatly increases the effectiveness of the assault. It is believed that Stanford’s network of computers may have been used in this way in the attack on Yahoo.”

Matt Richtel and Sara Robinson, “Web Attacks Might Have Many Sources,” The New York Times, February 11, 2000

A smurf attack, according to Technopedia, is “a type of denial of service attack in which a system is flooded with spoofed ping messages.” The attack “creates high computer network traffic on the victim’s network, which often renders it unresponsive.”

The term seems to come from the online gaming world, in which smurfing refers to an experienced player creating “a new account for the purposes of being matched against inexperienced players for easy wins.” Smurfing, which could be considered a type of hustling, seems to have originated in the mid-1990s in the game Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness, in which “certain well-known players,” using names such as PapaSmurf and Smurfette, pretended to play badly only to eventually beat the other players.

A variation of the smurf attack is the fraggle attack, named for its sourcecode, Fraggle.c. The name may come from Fraggle Rock, a Jim Henson show from the mid-1980s, or the word frag, which means “to wound or kill (a fellow soldier) by throwing a grenade or similar explosive at the victim,” and “a successful kill in a deathmatch game.” Frag is short for fragmentation grenade.

The word smurf, in case you were wondering, comes from De Smurfen, the Dutch translation of the Belgian Les Schtroumpfs, a word invented by Smurfs creator Peyo when he couldn’t remember the word for salt.


yak shaving

“Leopard makes it super easy to create your own widgets but, thanks to the efforts of thousands of Mac users, there are tons of widgets available for free download on just about any topic and use you can think of. Well, maybe not yak shaving. At least not yet.”

Lisa Hoover, “Mac 101: Whip Your Widgets into Shape,” Tuaw, November 1, 2007

Yak shaving refers to tedious tasks that must be done before productive work can begin, and may also refer to useless activity one engages in to avoid real work.

This term seems to have originated around the year 2000 at MIT by way of “Yak Shaving Day,” an early-1990s segment from the animated series, Ren & Stimpy.

Not enough computer lingo for you? Check out this extensive list of computer terms and their etymologies, this io9 piece on the “bizarre” evolution of the word cyber, and of course the Hacker’s Dictionary. For more on Ada Lovelace, check out The Mary Sue and Mental Floss.

[Photo: “Ada Lovelace, 1840,” Public Domain]
[Photo: “gunslinger,” CC BY 2.0 by striatic]
[Photo: “Ants marching,” CC BY 2.0 by L Church]
[Photo: “The Smurfs,” CC BY 2.0 by magoexperto]
[Photo: “Yaks!” CC BY 2.0 by Brian]

Have an A1 day!: Our Favorite Words from Breaking Bad

We’re just days away from the series finale of the brilliant Breaking Bad. While we’ve been on the edges of our seats all season, we’ve also been listening for interesting terms. We’ve collected them right here, from euphemisms to legal terms to the changing meaning of a devil of a word.

Also be sure to check out our roundup of words that broke bad in the first half of the season.


Walt [to Lydia]: “Give this to your car wash professional and have an A1 day.”

“Blood Money,” August 11, 2013

A1 is slang for first-class or outstanding. It originally referred to a wooden ship, says the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), “in respect of both hull and fittings.” Charles Dickens was one of the first to use A1 to mean anything excellent. From The Pickwick Papers: “‘He must be a first-rater,’ said Sam. ‘A1,’ replied Mr. Roker.”

In order to appear first in the phone book, a company may place multiple As and 1s before its name. But whether or not this actually improves business is questionable. A1 is also the brand name of a steak sauce.

change in management

Todd [to Walt]: “Me and Declan had some differences of opinion, and it got a little messy. It’s all straightened out now, but just a heads up that there’s been a kind of change in management.”

“Confessions,” August 25, 2013

Change in management is a euphemism for “a bunch of people quit or got fired and now there are new people in charge.” In this case, the former management was killed.

Todd’s dialogue is filled with euphemisms and biz speak, which are often one in the same: he and Declan had some “differences of opinion” rather than a murderous rivalry; the deadly shootout “got a little messy”; and Todd wants to make give Walt a “heads up” about the murder of Declan and his men.

dead to rights

Marie: “I got a call from Hank. He arrested Walt three hours ago. Dead to rights, I believe is the expression.”

“Ozymandias,” September 15, 2013

Dead to rights means “with sufficient evidence to establish responsibility definitively,” or as the OED puts it, caught “red-handed, in the act.” The phrase is also known as bang to rights. Dead to rights and bang to rights may come from the phrase deadbang meaning “open-and-shut; irrefutable.”

The phrase caught red-handed comes from the idea of a murderer being caught with blood on his hands.

Devil, the

Jesse [to Hank and Gomez]: “You two guys are just guys. Mr. White, he’s the Devil. He is smarter than you, he’s luckier than you. Whatever you think is supposed to happen, the exact reverse opposite of that is going to happen.”

“Rabid Dog,” September 1, 2013

The word devil comes from the Greek diabolos by way of Middle English, Old English, and Latin. In general use, diabolos means “accuser, slanderer,” according to the Online Etymology Dictionary.

The Devil was first known as “the proper appellation of the supreme spirit of evil” in Jewish and Christian theology, says the OED, and later was a “wicked or malevolent person.” The word gained the playful meaning of a “clever rogue” around 1600.

In “Blood Money,” the first episode of this last half of the season, Marie says jokingly to Walt, “You are the Devil!” A few episodes later Jesse refers to him as the Devil incarnate.

hat trick

Saul [to Jesse]: “The Feds have already taken Kaylee’s money twice. You’re going for a hat trick?”

“Blood Money,” August 11, 2013

A hat trick is three consecutive wins. The phrase comes from the game of cricket where it means “three wickets taken in cricket by a bowler in three consecutive balls.” It originated with the idea that such a bowler would be rewarded with a new hat.

rat patrol

Jack: “What are we talking? Rat patrol?”
Walt: “No, no. [Jesse’s] not a rat. He’s just angry.”

“To’hajiilee,” September 8, 2013

The rat in this case is “a despicable person, especially one who betrays or informs upon associates.” A rat patrol would exterminate such individuals.

The Rat Patrol was also an American TV show from the mid-1960s about four Allied soldiers “who are part of a long-range desert patrol group in the North African campaign during World War II.” Rat is the disparaging nickname given to “some of the British Commonwealth forces in the North African campaign.” Also called Desert Rats.

send someone on a trip to Belize

Walt: “Hank knows. That’s not nothing.”
Saul: “Yeah, I can’t exactly see him turning the other cheek. . . .Have you given any thought to sending him on a trip to Belize?”

“Buried,” August 18, 2013

To send someone on a trip to Belize is a euphemism for having someone killed. To sleep with the fishes, which comes from The Godfather, is another euphemism that means the individual is dead, most likely murdered and the corpse deposited in a body of water.

For more ways to say dead without saying dead, check out this list.

term of art

Saul: “It’s an actual store. I guess I figured ‘vacuum cleaner repair’ was a term of art.”

“Granite State,” September 22, 2013

A term of art is “a term whose use or meaning is specific to a particular field of endeavor.” These terms “have one or more specific meanings that are not necessarily the same as those in common use.”

“Vacuum cleaner repair” is the guise used by a man whose expertise lies in erasing people’s identities. Saul is surprised when the man appears to own an actual shop full of vacuums.


Declan: “Heisenberg’s standards don’t matter anymore.”
Lydia: “To whom? A bunch of scabby Arizona tweakers?

“Buried,” August 18, 2013

A tweaker is someone addicted to methamphetamines, otherwise known as crystal meth. This meaning of tweaker has been around since the 1980s, says the OED, and comes from tweak meaning “to become agitated or excited” or “twitchy,” especially from drug use. Tweak could be a blend of freak out and twitch.

[Photo: via Celebuzz]